Punches mean "you're cute", right?
He wrapped both hands around his pleasantly icy bottle of beer and tilted his head to one side, gifting her with an amused grin. "So why the hell did you punch me again?"
She met his smile with only a faint lift of an eyebrow, her brown eyes noncommittal. "Because you're a jackass," she answered mildly.
"Fair enough." He sat back and nodded cheerfully before lifting his drink for a long swallow. "Saving you from flowery death really is the worst thing a guy could do."
"Not that I needed saving but," she paused to look down into her own bottle, finger tracing the rim, "that's not why I punched you, anyway." She waited until he snorted a bit and had his bottle to his mouth again before adding, "It was more how you felt the need to check my bra size while doing it."
To her delight, he choked noisily and she didn't bother hiding her giggles as he pounded a fist against his sternum and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. As the hand came away, though, he simply grinned at her, completely unrepentant. "It was a perk," he admitted. "'Course it also let me get a handful of that knife under your shirt and what's around your neck again?"
In an unconscious movement, her hand went to her own sternum and pressed flat. She smoothed away all amusement. "What was that?"
"Charm bag." Dean lifted his drink and motioned towards her with it expansively. "You've got a nifty little baggy of what-all under there. What is it? Native American? Voodoo?" He settled back in his chair comfortably and watched her blank face with laughing eyes. The faint touch of pink high on her cheekbones showed what was either temper or embarrassment. Whichever it was, it was not only kind of cute but it also proved she didn't have herself so under control after all. He sipped his beer, drawing out the moment, waiting.
Finally, she inclined her head slightly and muttered, "Gris gris." He smirked knowingly and she pulled a disgusted face as she hunched forward to toy with her bottle. "So what about your spirit beads?" she added mildly. "Those for vanity or are you a big superstitious teddy bear?"
"What? These old things?" With a broad grin, he obligingly lifted his hand and shook his wrist. She rolled her brown eyes and he froze in position, tilting his head only to have a crease appear between his eyebrows. Then he shook his head and the look was gone. "I'm Dean," he announced and the abrupt switching of gears left her blinking as he continued, "And don't do that 'cause you remind me of my little brother and you're way cuter." He stuck out a hand, clammy with the beer's condensation. "Start over?"
"Becca." Her hand clasped his firmly for a moment and she angled her head slightly before releasing him. "Becca Collins," she clarified. "Before you ask, yes, I'm here on business." Her fingers touched the small pouch at her throat again. "Which you probably figured out already."
"Did I?" Dean widened his eyes for a moment and then he laughed. "I wasn't going to assume, y'know? Job or not, most of us are into protection." His expression bordered on hilarity again at her delicate lift of an eyebrow. "Oh, I'm real into that, yeah, but we just met so..."
"So you're not on a job, then? You're just here?"
"Why? Is something going on?" Dean folded his arms on the table in front of him and leaned forward, eyes sobering a bit and clearly dragging his attention into more suitable lines of inquiry. "I just finished up a little bit of voodoo out at a house by the lake. I hadn't heard about anything else."
"That's because you were playing wise-ass during the tour." Becca lifted a hand and signaled for another round of drinks. Then she settled back in her chair, eyes searching his face. "Do you usually do that?"
"Maybe. What did you catch?"
"A change on Royal Street." She looked down at the tabletop and wrinkled her nose, hands moving up to trace a finger along the grain of the wood. Licking her lips, she hesitated. "Did you read up on any of the ghost stories on that tour before crashing it or did you..."
"Hey, now. I didn't crash it. I paid fair and square." She shot him a disbelieving look and he grinned, sheepish. "More or less. But, sure, I know some of them. Like the Sultan's Palace." He paused, flashing a grin at the waitress who brought over two more beers. Then he waited until the petite brunette had reached safe distance once again. Idly, he toyed with the neck of his new bottle. "What kind of change?"
"Flower pot sorts of changes."
He frowned. "Come again?" Then, even as the second syllable left, Dean nodded; he was too experienced a Hunter to not be able to do quick sums in his head. Flower pot plus Hunter equals an up in the spooky activity. Or something to that effect. "Gotcha. Someone's gotten uppity, huh?"
"In an increasingly life-threatening way, you'll notice." Looking down, Becca rubbed at the grain of the wood again. "734 Royal Street is getting dangerous. None of us ever bothered with it before because, well, how worked up can you get over a naked ghost who just stands there for a moment and then goes back inside?" She paused for a moment and seemed to consider her audience before a faint, crooked smile appeared on her face, wry and amused. "Except maybe someone like you, huh?"
"That's not quite fair. I'm sure there's plenty of other guys around here worried she'll catch a cold." Somehow he managed to swallow some of his beer without choking on the liquid; divine retribution would have to get up early in the morning to catch out Dean Winchester. "I mean, this is the French Quarter." Feeling her eyes on him, he sobered again and set down his bottle. "No, you're right," he admitted. "There's too many freakin' ghost stories to go chasing them all down. If they don't make noise, don't worry about them. Well," he hesitated, amending his own words with hardly a thought, "at least don't put them on the top of the list."
The look she gave him at that was strange but he answered it with a vague shrug, missing the meaning behind it. Becca shook her head and again toyed with her bottle. "I guess you can say that," she relented. "Not when they kick it up, though. Julie's showing some temper and not everyone is going to be as lucky as me to miss that projectile."
"So where are the bones?" There was a long pause which Dean neatly interpreted. "No bones. What? Was she murdered and dumped?"
"You really didn't do any research at all," she murmured in something that came very close to awe. Brown eyes searched his open face as if trying to find the punch line. Finding nothing, she blinked and sat back in her chair with a huffing sigh before lifting a hand to rub over her face. "But you did your job and you're on vacation, right. Sorry." He tilted his head and the corner of his mouth crooked up to award her points in deduction. She half-smiled in response but then closed her eyes. "Don't worry about it, Dean," she finished mildly. "It'll be routine and you probably deserve a nice rest. I mean, it's not like we take off regularly. No weekends for us."
Quiet fell between them for a moment, overlaid by the eruption of the house band, all ballsy guitar riffs and heavy drum beat. Dean vaguely noted that it was a half decent cover of "Born On The Bayou" but his real attention focused on the woman opposite him. His study was only fifty per cent leer at the glimpse of toned stomach and the way her shirt pulled at her stretch; the other half evaluated the way she moved and the memory of her right hook in a business-like manner which would have shocked almost anyone who had ever met him. Slouching back further in his chair, he tilted his head. "Is the research back at your place?" he asked finally.
"Dates, sightings, whatever. She's got a story, right?" At Becca's answering blink, Dean laughed and rolled his eyes. "C'mon, I'll help you out. Vacations are overrated, anyway. I've already had a hangover and done the tourist crap. What else is there?" He grinned, waiting expectantly.
Finally, Becca sighed, pushed herself upright, and fished out a wallet, throwing a handful of bills onto the table. "Come on, yourself," she returned and the grudging acceptance of his offered help only barely pinged his ego. "Maybe you'll see something I missed."
"Here it is." The blonde neatly stepped out of his way, allowing Dean freedom to wander deeper into her hotel room as she closed the door. Without thinking, she locked it and the sharp click made him glance over his shoulder with a tactless leer. "Habit," she answered but did not move to unlock it, instead dipping a hand into a little pot sitting on a chair to emerge with enough salt to complete the circle across the door once more. "Don't worry, Dean," she laughed. "If I take advantage of you, the door won't need locking. Have a seat."
He let his gaze wander vaguely and then, pushing a pair of kitten-print pyjamas out of his way, he dropped onto the end of the bed, arms braced behind him as he looked up at her. "Well, taking advantage is what you're doing, isn't it?" he drawled, still grinning. "I was on vacation and you're dragging me to your room to talk about nakedness."
"Nudity," she corrected absently. Then she shook her head, unable to keep from smiling back at him. The simple audaciousness of him stepped too firmly over the line of manners to be worth scoldings. It was amazing and probably a long-tried defense mechanism. "And you volunteered for this, cowboy, so don't even start with me. You're the worst kind of us, you know. You like this shit more than you do normalcy."
He snorted at her assessment, chin ducking as he watched her. "So is this you kicking me out?" he asked with all the dewy innocence of a veteran hooker.
"No way. You signed up for research and research you'll get." With that declaration, Becca yanked open a drawer to withdraw a stack of notebooks. She paused just long enough to select the top two, dropped the rest back in the drawer, and crossed to drop her body across the bed behind Dean. "Here," she offered as she flipped the first one open to a dog-eared page. He obediently swung his weight around to sit closer, leaning forward with the double bonus of seeing her work and pressing his shoulder against hers. She ignored the violation of personal space and pointed at a section, short fingernail tapping at a few lines. "Her name was Julie Lapointe and she was an octoroon."
"Want to clear that one up?"
"One eighth black. They were, uh, really goddamn picky back then."
"No kidding." Dean shifted forward, eyes on the page, reading ahead and pretending that his hand hadn't migrated to her shoulder to balance himself as he leaned. "She was a mistress, huh? Is this a love-revenge thing, you think?"
She ignored his touch just as well as he did and shook her head. "I don't know. Her lover died about a month later," she explained. "Just wasted away. Not ghost-sick, though, as far as I could tell. Whatever took him, it wasn't her."
"And she hasn't done anything until..?" He trailed off, looking sideways at her profile, trailing off pointedly. She shook her head again. "We talking weeks or months here? I mean, she just tried to kill you tonight so what kind of ramping up are we talking about?"
Becca turned a page to show him a column of dates, dashes, and notes that stretched halfway down the page. "It's been three months until we got to this point. Far as I can tell, I'm the first person she's really made a good go at."
Unable to stop himself, he snickered in response to her matter-of-fact tone. "Right. Aren't you lucky?" He reached across to trail a finger down the list, an aid to skimming. "Anything linking these events?" A wicked little smile played at his lips. "Any more blondes in tight jeans?"
She lifted an eyebrow, pulled the book away, and neatly shoved him back to his side of the bed with a rough push of her shoulder. "Jackass," she replied mildly before adding, "they've all be witnessed by women alone. No guys were harmed in the making of this spook story. Catty little thing, isn't she?"
"Mm." Dean flopped back and stared at the ceiling. Silence settled for a moment as he organized what lists and tips she had shared into his own coherent mess. Then, half to himself, he muttered, "No bones so no banishing that way. Gotta find why she's done a 180 like this. Then we can..."
"Fix it or just solve it. Either she goes back to just prancing around on the balcony naked or else she goes for good. New Orleans has a high enough murder rate without the spooks throwing their hands in. Yeah." She dropped her second notebook over on his stomach and then relaxed down across her end of the bed. Closing her eyes, she also fell back into silence. Hands folded over the first notebook, resting on her own stomach, she waited.
He listened to her breathe, slow and measured, as he held up the problem at hand. Dammit, he hated complicated ones. His own job had gone so smoothly. Find, burn, done. Simple and on he went to his well-deserved rest. She had been disturbingly right about him, though. The tourist routine already played out in only a day, he was looking for the ghosts and monsters again. This ghost, however, would be a bitch. He pictured the pages from her notebook in his mind, holding them there to better focus. Mistress, marriage, a really shitty challenge... Then freezing to death on a rooftop in New Orleans. Who the hell froze to death in /New Orleans/, anyway? The place was muggier than... Well, it was hotter than hell a lot of the time. Julie didn't bother anyone for a good hundred-plus years. Now she was trying to kill people. What had changed?
Rolling over onto his side, Dean squinted at Becca. "You find anything that would've gotten her panties in a twist three months ago?"
"The house was sold. I haven't gotten in to see if they did anything to it yet."
He covered his face with a hand, groaning. "Oh, come on. Becca, you've got to throw me a bone here. Research isn't going to cut this one." Suddenly, he drew his hand away slowly and grinned at her, adding in an inept eyebrow wiggle. "Got it. You just wanted to get me home. Hey, that's cool."
Laughing, she introduced her pillow to his face and shoved. "You pretty much invited yourself so don't start with me. All I'm looking for is some help here."
He tugged the pillow down and peered over the top at her. "Who bought it?"
There was a moment of quiet as she fought to adjust to his quick switch of topics. She flipped open the notebook again. "Some little corporation looking for a tax break in keeping up a historical house. The bottom floor is a kitschy shop and the top floors are... Well, the proposal was to turn them into a small-fee time-capsule museum. The shop pays the rent; the museum looks good for the company and provides something to put on those tax forms." She wrinkled her nose in the gesture that he had already associated with her bringing up filed thoughts. "The museum isn't open yet, though, and I couldn't find ads for it so I don't know if they've worked on it. If they've altered the layout or something..." She lapsed into thoughtful silence, setting the notebook back on her stomach, open yet, spine bending.
Suddenly, Dean leaned over top of her, offering a grin as he tucked her pillow back into place. Then he focused square on her face. "How are you at lock-picking?"